Toronto Fringe: Peeling back the layers in the funny, frank, insightful feminist excavation Operation SUNshine

Jennifer McKinley takes us on an unusual reclamation project in her father’s basement bathroom in her one-woman show Operation SUNshine, directed by Clara McBride and running at St. Vladimir Theatre for Toronto Fringe.

Tasked with preparing her father’s home for sale, McKinley tackles the most complex—and unusual—part of the cleaning and purging process: the basement bathroom that was at one time part of her father’s friend Bill’s living space. Walls and ceiling have been wallpapered with Toronto Sun Sunshine Girl clippings. And as she carefully excises these women from their bathroom prison, she discovers more than just a collection of pin-up girls.

Seeing these images as a piece of childhood/family history—not to mention that they present real women living real lives away from their photo shoots—instead of simply scraping the photos off, McKinley chooses to carefully cut and peel. Rescuing these photos and the lives that go with them, she preserves as many of the images as she can and reads the news stories of the day on the other side of each photo page. What she finds are many stories of tragedy and loss—missing and murdered women and children, and the men who put them there—that still resonate 25 years later in that they are still all too common.

The physical activity of removing the photos becomes introspective, inspiring memories of family history, as well as curiosity about the lives of these women. Using specific physical and vocal attributes, McKinley creates a series of compelling, often funny, sharply defined characters, including her father and her younger selves—and a selection of her (and Bill’s) favourite Sunshine Girls. These are women who enjoy their bodies and their sexuality, in some cases promoting themselves and/or earning a living. The rescue mission turns into a feminist excavation—of these models, the accompanying male gaze and, most importantly, of personal self-discovery. She uncovers a hidden part of herself, one that involved choices intended to make herself invisible and safe.

Peeling back the layers in the funny, frank, insightful feminist excavation Operation SUNshine.

Operation SUNshine continues at St. Vladimir Theatre until July 15; advance tickets available online.

Toronto Fringe: Bawdy, silly good times with Macbeth in the wacky fun Weirder Thou Art

Bouffon meets Shakespeare in Physically Speaking’s production of Weirder Thou Art, written and directed by Ardyth Johnson, and running at St. Vladimir Theatre  for Toronto Fringe.

The three witches from Macbeth—The Virgin (played with a fierce feminist energy by Ronak Singh), The Matron (Stephen Flett in the delightfully bombastic and know-it-all role) and The Crone (deliciously lascivious, courtesy of Anne Shepherd)—kidnap William Shakespeare (hapless and confused, played by Philip Krusto) to force him to write the story their way. And to make a proof of their humanity to God.

And because bouffon is about mockery, filthy, rowdy and overblown shenanigans ensue as the witches come in and out of their rehearsal of Macbeth, with The Matron casting herself as Lady Macbeth while relegating the others to bit parts—that is, until the other two witches revolt.

Lots of LOLs from the entire cast; with some nicely performed bits of Macbeth. Adult language and situations—this is not a show for kids.

Bawdy, silly good times with Macbeth in the wacky fun Weirder Thou Art.

Weirder Thou Art continues at St. Vladimir Theatre until July 16; advance tickets available on the show page.

Check out Phil Rickaby’s interview with director Ardyth Johnson on Stageworthy Podcast.




Toronto Fringe: Zoey and Jake, now and then, in the lovely, playful & moving nostalgic journey False Start

False Start

Green Box Theatre Company plays with time and space to reveal the evolution of a relationship in its Toronto Fringe production of Nicole Hrgetic’s False Start, directed by Mani Eustis and currently running at St. Vladimir Theatre.

Zoey (Elizabeth Adams) and Jake (Dylan Evans) meet in high school when Jake is in desperate need of a math and science tutor to save his GPA and his chance at a football scholarship. About 20 years later, Zoey (Andrea Brown) is in desperate need to start a family, and needs Jake (Andrew Knowlton) to be on board with her ovulation schedule after several miscarriages.

Effectively and organically staged, the lives of younger and older versions of this couple inhabit the space in different times and spaces, with scenes overlapping as time shifts from past into present and back again. And there’s some really lovely use of upstage projection, showing us the night sky on their first date and Jake’s beloved Jets football game.

There’s a comfortable, almost relaxing rhythm to this relationship, even during moments of tension – largely due to the great chemistry of the pairings. Adams and Evans have a lovely, awkward and youthful sense of playfulness, with Adams as the smart, sharp-witted and mature younger Zoey, and Evans as the impetuous, cocky and sweet Jake. As their grown-up versions, Brown’s gives Zoey a gentle air of gravitas; still the smart, responsible one, she still can’t help but smile at Jake’s puckish antics. Knowlton’s Jake is still a lovable, infuriating boy; he loves Zoey to death, but can’t help but feel a failure when he compares his job as a gym teacher to her successful corporate career in science.

In the end, both Zoey and Jake must come to terms with lost dreams, both personal and shared. These high school sweethearts still have each other. The only question now is: Where do they go from here?

Zoey and Jake, now and then, in the lovely, playful and moving nostalgic journey False Start.

False Start continues at St. Vladimir Theatre, with two more performances: Fri, July 8 at 11 p.m. and Sat, July 9 at 7 p.m. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Last call for Ale House Theatre Co.’s Twelfe Night, or what you will – one night only Thurs, July 16

Twelfe-new-photo-250x250Did you miss seeing Ale House Theatre Co.’s Original Practices production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfe Night, or what you will during Toronto Fringe?

Fear not, gentle theatre lovers! The company is doing one more, very special, performance at St. Vladimir Theatre on Thursday, July 16 at 8:00 p.m.

What’s so special about this performance, you ask? This time, the show will be Pay What You Decide.

What the heck is Pay What You Decide? The good folks at Ale House Theatre Co. explain it thusly:

... recently employed by the ARC theatre of Stockton-on-Tees, England … Patrons will have free entrance to the venue and performance. After enjoying the show, they are
free to leave as little or as much money as they decide. Ale House is calling it the “Ale
House Last Call: Free to enter; Leave what you will!” evening.

Ale House Theatre Co.’s Twelfe Night, or what you will is directed by Joshua Stodart, and features a fine ensemble cast: Hilary McCormack, Tayves Fiddis, Dan Henkel, Mitchell Janiak, Peyton LeBarr, Tim MacLean, Andrea Massoud, Matt Shaw, Kyle Shields, Tal Shulman, Chris Whidden and Jake Vanderham. I saw the production last week during Toronto Fringe; here’s the write-up.

So be of good cheer and get your butts out to St. Vladimir Theatre on Thursday, July 16 for a most delightful production of Twelfe Night, or what you will. In the meantime, give Ale House Theatre Co. a follow on Twitter to keep up with future productions.

Toronto Fringe: A most delightful production of Twelfe Night, or what you will from Ale House Theatre Co.

Twelfe-new-photo-250x250Finally got to see Ale House Theatre Co. do Shakespeare yesterday. They’re running an Original Practices version of Twelfe Night, or what you will, directed by Joshua Stodart, at St. Vladimir’s Theatre during Toronto Fringe.

An Original Practices production uses the stage conventions and tech that were known to be used in Shakespeare’s time – and this dictates the staging and tone of the play. This production of Twelfe Night features some hilarious physical comedy and characterizations, and keeps the pacing light and quick – which keeps the pranking schemes from getting too mean-spirited, and the sudden decisions about love and marriage from looking too crazy. All nicely book-ended with Feste, who plays recorder at the top of the show (he’ll take period-appropriate requests) and sings at the close.

Stodart has assembled a fine cast for this tale of tragically separated twins, disguise, crazy love and mistaken identity. Stand-outs include Peyton Le Barr, who brings an adorably puckish yet vulnerable quality to Viola; Hilary McCormack (doing double duty this Fringe, also performing in Hanger, directed by Stodart) is striking as the lovely and proud Olivia, her stubborn resolve to cloister herself away melting into a puddle as she falls crazy stupid in love with Cesario (Viola in disguise); Andrea Massoud is wonderful as the saucy and cunning Maria – and she has excellent chemistry with Tim MacLean’s drunken sot of an aging party boy Sir Toby Belch and Matt Shaw’s hilariously awkward twerp of a Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Tal Shulman does an excellent turn as Olivia’s arrogant and snobbish steward Malvolio, who turns to a silly pile of mush himself at the prospect of being adored by his mistress. And Jake Vanderham charms as the sharp-witted, good-natured Fool Feste, entertaining us on the recorder and with a lovely set of pipes of his own.

All in all, a most delightful production of Twelfe Night, or what you will from Ale House Theatre Co. Get yourself out to see some excellent good fun Shakespeare.

Twelfe Night, or what you will continues at St. Vladimir’s until July 12 – check here for exact dates/times. In the meantime, give Ale House Theatre Co. a follow on Twitter to keep up with future productions.

Toronto Fringe: A journey to home in one-woman show The Art of Traditional Head-tying

the_art_of_traditional_head-tying.web_-250x250Saw another moving and entertaining one-person show yesterday: The Art of Traditional Head-tying. Written by Kanika Ambrose (who Alumnae Theatre folks and fans will recognize from After Mrs. Rochester) and directed by Virgilia Griffith, the solo show is running at St. Vladimir’s Theatre as part of Toronto Fringe.

Ambrose takes her character Rosie – and the audience – on a journey from Canada to Dominica, where Rosie was raised by her grandmother, who taught her how to tie various types of head scarves when she was a child. She returns to her homeland to teach a workshop on the art of traditional head-tying and is bitterly disappointed to find her granny’s grave site unkempt, her two lazy nieces too busy partying to take care, and her students too distracted with their day-to-day lives to engage with the class. For Rosie, keeping the tradition of head-tying alive is not just about preserving culture, it is about industry and empowering people with a marketable skill.

Also partly a lesson in culture and cultural dress, the play features information on the topics at hand, including voice-overs from Ms. Annelia Lizina St. Rose, an authority on Dominican head-tying, and Mr. Lennox Honeychurch, a top historian in Domenica. And the program includes illustrations of head-tying styles and a glossary of terms pertaining to traditional wear in Dominica. So if you’re like me and didn’t know a thing about Dominican head-tying when you came to see the show, you’ll walk out knowing a lot more.

Ambrose nimbly shifts from character to character – both physically and vocally – a one-woman cast, playing her two young nieces (one a vacuous material girl and the other a fierce hip hop girl); a niece’s lay-about boyfriend; her charming and cocky childhood friend/sweetheart, now a bus driver; and a cheeky older man she meets at the cemetery.

In the end, a journey that started as a task ends up being one of discovery – a search for home and a longing to connect with her dead grandmother. The place Rosie used to all “home” has changed and her real home is in her heart.

The Art of Traditional Head-tying is a heartwarming piece of one-woman storytelling about culture, family and home – with an engaging cast of characters.

You have one more chance to catch this show: today (July 13) at 9 p.m.


Toronto Fringe: Furtive desires emerge in Karenin’s Anna

karenin's anna - 2Karenin’s Anna is playwright Michael Ross Albert’s modern-day adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, directed by Luke Marty and currently running in the Toronto Fringe at St. Vladimir’s Theatre.

In this two-hander version, Anna (Caitlin Robson) is a Brooklyn girl who has just married Sergei Karenin (Daniel Pagett), the cousin of a friend, so he can get his green card. For the next six months, he will be living with her in her one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on the couch and paying her rent. Anna intends to use the money to pursue childhood flame Bobby, who is off in Italy to marry someone else.

From the moment the two enter Anna’s apartment, there is an earnest quality to their relationship, even in their polite stranger’s distance. As the play progresses, the dynamic between them evolves, and new – and previously hidden – feelings and emotions emerge.

Robson does a lovely job with Anna, a restless, passionate woman, full of longing – her emotions sometimes getting the better of her and shifting to cruelty. Pagett’s Sergei is nicely layered, frustrations surging beneath his calm politeness as he struggles with his own desires, missing his beloved back home terribly. Both are living daily lives of quiet desperation that can only come to a boil.

With shouts to Marty’s in-the-round set design, which gives the audience an intimate, fly-on-the-wall perspective of this relationship.

Karenin’s Anna is a beautifully rendered adaptation, told with passion and truth by an excellent pair of actors.

The show runs at St. Vladimir’s Theatre until July 12 – check here for exact dates/times.